The occupation of mahouts dates back many centuries and is still practiced today. When Asia, specifically Southeast Asia was developing, the landscape was hilly and covered with thick jungle. This made it difficult to traverse the land, however, elephants had little trouble moving about. Hence it began humans captured wild elephants to fight in battles then later for the logging industry. The mahouts trained the elephants and made them an integral part of the family.
This led to a tradition involving captive elephants and the people who care for them. A mahout is a person who devotes their entire life caring for an elephant. Today it is common to find mahouts who come from second or third generation mahout families as is the case with our mahouts.
Our mahouts have a special bond with each elephant based on trust, respect, and understanding. It is awe-inspiring to observe the complex communication and gentle interaction between the two. We are fortunate to have mahouts who care deeply for the welfare of our elephants, while sharing, teaching and bringing our guests into this special world.
Meet the Family
Jawi. Cares for Tongpoon
Jawi cares for Tongpoon the Matriarch. When asked about his history with elephants, Jawi recounts stories from when he used to leave home with his elephant, travel deep into the forest living solely off the land on his way to logging sites, where he would then work for several months at a time. Now, it is difficult to decide whether Jawi takes care of the herd's matriarch or whether she takes care of him! Tongpoon is constantly communicating with each member of the herd and Jawi has learned when Tongpoon is ready to move, calling the others to stay, or otherwise.
Sanga. Cares for Kaengsopa
Sanga, Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary's head mahout, used to be a farmer in his home province of Mae Hong Son before coming to work at Sappraiwan only a few years after it opened. He has been with the sanctuary longer than any of the other mahouts and is a natural leader, making him a great head to our team. He knows each of the elephants very well and has developed bonds with almost every elephant in the herd. Sanga works with Kaengsoph whom he has known since she was a young baby elephant, as Kaengsopha, our queen bee, only listens to Sanga.
Sakan. Cares for Tongkam
Sakan grew up in Mae Hong Son province and began logging with a bull elephant when he was about 17 years old. He left home to work in Bangkok for several years, but now says he's happier because he's back to doing what he loves - working with elephants. His light-hearted, youthful personality makes everyone around him instantly feel like they're with an old friend, which makes him a perfect match for his elephant.
Jay. Cares for Katid
Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary is proud of the elephant family that has developed, but also of the mahout family that exists within the facility. Many of the mahouts here are related and that trust and loyalty allow them to work together effectively. When we needed to recruit more mahouts, Jay was suggested by the others and because of that family tie, he joined the team seamlessly. In addition to being a great mahout, Jay is also a talented athlete and is always first picked when the mahouts play football, or takraw (kick volleyball).
Reka. Cares for Tongtae
Reka says his favorite thing about working at Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary is working with a true herd of elephants. The elephant he cares for, Tongtae, has given birth to two calves since arriving at the sanctuary, and Reka takes great pride in leading Tongtae and her calves into the forest every day. Reka knows this sub-group better than anyone else and can interpret their thoughts and actions based on the most subtle movements - he's practically one of the herd!
Pramuan. Cares for Fahsai
Pramuan's passion for elephants began when he was a young boy, watching his father go into the forest every day with their family's elephant. Being a mahout is more than a job in Thai culture, it is a lifestyle and a tradition that is passed down through generations. Pramuam says he wouldn't want to do anything else with his life, and this is apparent to anyone who sees him around the herd of elephants at Sappraiwan.
Song. Cares for Tanwa
Though Song is one of the youngest members of our mahout team, his dedication to this herd and this team make him invaluable. As is traditional for mahouts in Thailand, Song is learning how to manage elephants from his elders. It is a significant custom for experienced mahouts to pass their knowledge on to younger mahouts so their methods are preserved and carried on. Supported by his elders and friends, Song takes fantastic care of Tanwa, and we couldn't be happier with his seamless transition into the Sappraiwan family. Song is always up for anything that helps the mahouts and elephants - he's first to jump into the truck when heading out to chop banana trees, last to take a break while planting elephant grass, and is constantly singing throughout all of it!
Duangtip. Cares for Boonmee
Duangtip use to work in the logging industry with big elephant bulls. This is not a simple nor easy job as it takes much skill, strength and courage. Born and raised in the Thailand province of Mae Hong Son, located in Northern Thailand, Duangtip is married to the sister of our mahout Arporn who cares for Tongtang. Duangtip and his wife have two children. The oldest son, Watcharee is 22 years old, and his youngest son is Thanavee, who is 6 years old.
Luck. Cares for Saitong
Originally from Sukhothai province, Luck has lived in several different regions of Thailand, always working with elephants. He says he enjoyed getting to know different elephants and understands their varying personalities, but now, is ready to concentrate in one facility. Luck acts like the glue that holds the mahout team together because he is constantly joking, laughing and making even the toughest work seem enjoyable. When Luck is not with his elephant Saitong, you can find him playing an upbeat rhythm on his drums, which has proven to make all of our guests get up and dance.
Arpon. Cares for Tongtang
Previously a logging mahout in Mae Hong Son province, Arporn has been a strong leader and constant source of support to both the mahouts and elephants at Sappraiwan.Though he is quiet and reserved, those who take the time to ask him about his history with elephants stand to learn a great deal about the relationship that is possible between humans and elephants. Arporn is particularly skilled with managing bull elephants, and his experience and insight are essential to the sanctuary.
Prasong. Cares for Wangtong
After logging with many different elephants in his home province of Mae Hong Son, Prasong sought a stable job where he could earn a living while still working with the animals he loves. He says he prefers the pace of work at Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary and especially enjoys work at the sanctuary because of the interactions he has with people from other countries. He usually has as many questions about our visitors as they have about the elephants! Hard-working and easy-going, Prasong is a fantastic mahout and team member.
Billy. Cares for Saishon
Unlike the other mahouts, Billy had never worked with elephants before working at Sappraiwan. While this might sound like a recipe for disaster, in fact, this is exactly how mahouts should develop their skills. Knowledge and experience are passed down from men to their sons, nephews, grandsons, etc. and once they are ready, they can take over the family elephant and allow their elders to retire. Billy is related to several of the other mahouts at Sappraiwan, and they chose him for the role because they knew he had the required dedication and patience to do the job. Billy has done very well with his elephant, Saishon, and he continues to learn from other mahouts and elephants every day.
Seethon. Cares for Tongpoon
Our newest mahout is Khun Seethon, he comes to Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary from his home village of Mae La Noy, near the larger area known as Mae Hong Son. Khun Seethon has five children, three daughters and two sons. The oldest is 31 years old and the youngest is 12 years old. Khun Seethon is very proud of his children, of the two youngest, one is in high school and the other is studying to be a solider. Of the three older children one is a teacher, one owns his own business while the other works at a government public health center.
When you ask others about Khun Seethon, they all agree he is a diligent worker, as well as a good and kind person. Before coming to Sappraiwan, he worked with logging elephants and still owns a nine rai rice farm. In his spare time he enjoys the game of Sepak Takrak, also known as Kick Volleyball.